I’m here today to share the first chapter of Ealanta: The Golden City with y’all. If you enjoy it, I hope you’ll pick up a copy when it releases next month! I am so excited to let this book out into the world. It’s truly a delight to share the land of Ealanta with you all.
THE CANVAS GLOWS WITH SANDS that shine like mottled gold beneath a blazing sun for as far as the eye can see. Through the strokes of the brush, she can feel the heat beating off the ground, churning up hazy mirages, and parching the back of her throat. Far in the distance, monolithic spheres glitter and shine. She wonders if they could roll away with a strong enough wind, and she knows that’s where she’s going next.
MARGOT LAID HER BRUSHES ASIDE and took a deep breath. The child growing in her womb rustled, echoing the stirring in her heart. She stroked her belly and whispered, “I know, sweetheart. I know. What do you think it means? Daddy will have the answers, huh? He always does.” But then her heart sank as she thought of telling Asa about the return of her gift and how it spoke of another adventure.
Asa had been so happy since they saved the Gaols from the ghostly plane. She’d been happy, too. They had a comfortable life now. Saoirse was a beautiful, peaceful place, and the Gaols were thankful to have their lives back. No one took a single day for granted. No one forgot how lucky they were to be free.
Asa was no exception. He and Margot, as King and Queen of Saoirse, had an easy job. What troubles could a society like theirs have?
Their children had grown into smart and precocious little people. They made their parents proud every day.
Penny was an empathetic girl who wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. While trapped in the ghostly plane, when the veil became thin, she observed a hospital. There, she saw doctors and nurses treating patients, and it inspired her to want to take care of the sick in Saoirse. Her gift, now, was only beginning to manifest, but it was likely of the healing sort. Margot was eager to see how it would develop and to nurture it as her parents had done for her. Penny was young yet, and every Gaol’s gift came to them at different ages and at their own pace.
Every few days, Adam brought home injured creatures and nursed them back to health. It was clear he would one day become Saiorse’s version of a veterinarian. For now, he was content to tend to the animals he could help in small ways. Asa felt a strong connection to his son; their gifts were much the same — a link to Ealanta. Asa could communicate with Her in a profound spiritual way, and Adam’s came through animals. He was very young, but his gift had already manifested. Asa was so very proud.
The baby stirred in her belly, waking Margot from her reverie. She placed her hand on it. The baby was the biggest reason not to tell Asa about the painting. She was heavy with his child, due in two months. They were ecstatic for the delivery, and to be new parents again.
They had a comfortable, happy life together, now, in Saoirse. But she couldn’t ignore her gift. Even as she sat there with her hand on her belly, she could feel the voice inside her urging her on. It was the same one that summoned her to Cabin 42 and to Joy Love. The very same which led her to Asa. She could not ignore it any more than she could ignore her love for her family. It was a part of her.
But would Asa understand? Because whatever this meant, it wasn’t meant for her. She couldn’t go on this quest. She couldn’t leave Saoirse. So, what was her role in this other than the messenger?
I should talk to Adelaide, she thought, and it made the most sense of anything all night.
THE NEXT MORNING, AFTER ASA left for his morning walk, Margot brought Adelaide into her studio.
“Wow,” Adelaide said, her words breathless and airy. “It’s beautiful, Margot.” The vibrancy of the piece stunned her into near silence. She’d heard many tales of Margot’s talent, but seeing it in person was another thing entirely.
“Thank you. I didn’t bring you here to brag about my painting skills, though. It’s more than that.”
Adelaide could sense the tension in Margot’s voice. She turned to watch her friend as she eased her large form into a plush armchair. Margot gestured for her to sit near her. She sat down and searched Margot’s eyes. “What is it?”
“This is the first painting I’ve done with my gift since I returned to Ealanta.”
“Whoa! Are you serious? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I need your help to work through it. The last time I painted with my gift like this, it led me here. To you and Asa.”
“But I’ve seen you in here many times since you’ve been back; surely, this isn’t the first time? Maybe you’re mistaken?” Adelaide looked at the other canvases in the room and couldn’t deny there was a clear difference between them. Margot was talented, no doubt about it, but the one she’d done of the Golden City was different. It was more alive somehow. It was as though she could step through the canvas and into the city if she got close enough. The more she looked at it, the more it pulled her in. Margot painted it with the same set of oils and the same stretched canvas as the others, but it sparkled with a brilliance that came from somewhere paranormal.
“I’m not mistaken. These other paintings were to keep my technique sharp. With this kind of piece, there’s a little voice inside of me that guides my hand.” Margot furrowed her brow and sighed. “I’ve always called it a voice, but perhaps that isn’t the best description. It’s like that little inner voice we call our conscious, but not? Do you get what I mean?”
Adelaide thought for a moment and nodded her head.
“It’s that kind of voice. And it’s strong. I have to listen to it. It’s stronger than a gut instinct. It’s, like, the opposite of guilt. Guilt makes you feel an awful sinking, feeling deep in your gut that pulls you down. This feeling has the same pull, but it lifts me and pulls me toward something instead. Does that make any sense at all?”
“It does. It’s different, but when I use my magic, there’s a feeling like that. When it flows through me, it pulls from deep within me. It overtakes my entire body. My emotions go numb, and I become one with the magic. It’s powerful and freeing and kind of scary. It’s scary because it’s how some become corrupted. It’s easy to get so caught up in that feeling. Is it like that for you with the voice?”
“In a way, I suppose. Before I got to Ealanta, I used to do nothing but paint. My parents worried about me because I never left my room. All I did was paint portraits of the people here and the landscapes of Ealanta. I was obsessed with my life here, even though I had no idea what it all meant. I was addicted to the feeling I got when I heeded the voice. I was lonely and out of place in my life on Earth. I didn’t fit in there, and I longed to find my place so very much. I found it through my art.”
“So, what do you think this voice is telling you now? Why has your gift returned now?” Adelaide asked.
“It’s telling me I — or we — need to go to this Golden City.”
Adelaide’s eyes widened.
“Yeah,” Margot said, her arms instinctively wrapping around her swollen belly. “What am I supposed to do with that?”
“You have to tell Asa.”
“But what if he’s upset about it? He’s been so happy, Adelaide. He’s so happy with his life here in Saoirse. He’s got a good life here. He’s content. What if he doesn’t want to tear that up to go on some crazy adventure again. You know what it was like the last time!” Margot’s voice rose in a frenzy. Tears sprung to her eyes, and her throat tightened.
“It’ll be okay, Margot,” Adelaide said, taking Margot’s hand. Margot’s trembled and clung to her. “We’ll figure it out either way, and Asa loves you more than anything in the world. He’ll understand. You know that.”
The women were grateful for one another. They grew close during their adventure to reunite the Mayons and bring back the Gaols. Their hearts entwined like the roots of an ancient tree, as though they had known each other always. They felt each other’s pain and joy alike.
“I’m sorry. My hormones are all over the place. This baby is making me crazy. I can’t help it,” Margot said, trying to make light of her reaction, but she couldn’t deny the terror she felt deep down. “I’m scared to tell him, Adelaide. I don’t want to disrupt his life. I don’t want to disrupt yours either. Let’s face it; it’s not like I can go away on some grand adventure right now.” She gestured to her womb with a strained chuckle.
Adelaide reached over and rubbed Margot’s belly. The baby inside kicked against her hand, and both women looked at each other with big grins. It broke the tension, and Adelaide said, “No, you can’t, but honey, don’t worry about disrupting me. I’m keen on going on another adventure.”
“What? You are?” Margot looked at her friend with wide eyes.
“Are you kidding me? Of course, I am! I love my life here in Saoirse, but I felt alive when we saved the Gaols. I’ve spent the time since honing my magic, and I’ve come into myself. If I could do something like that again, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance?”
Margot half-sobbed, half-sighed, and put her head in her hands.
“Oh, Margot,” Adelaide said, jumping from her seat and falling to her knees before her friend. She wrapped Margot in her arms and pulled her hands from her face, searching her eyes for the matter. “I’m sorry! Please, tell me what’s wrong. I didn’t mean to upset you. I didn’t mean to make it worse. I’m so sorry.”
“No, no. You’ve made me happy.” Margot took Adelaide’s face in her hands and held it. She was a little ashamed at how emotional the pregnancy made her, but she wasn’t going to begrudge any part of the experience. “Gosh, you’re beautiful, Adelaide.”
Both women giggled at that; for, Adelaide hated when anyone told her she was beautiful. Margot often told her she was like a pixie, whatever that was. Coming from Margot, she knew it had to be something lovely.
Adelaide rolled her eyes and released Margot’s hands. She kissed her palms and said, “I’m glad it makes you happy, my friend. I mean it. I would be ecstatic to find this Golden City, wherever it is. I believe in your gift, Margot. One hundred percent. So, let’s tell Asa and figure out where to go from here.”
“That means more to me than you know. That you believe in my gift.”
“Why wouldn’t I? It got you here. It got me you. Your gift is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I love you,” Margot said, reaching over her huge belly to hug her friend.
“I love you, too! But you better be careful. We’re gonna squish the kid.”
As if the baby could understand her words, it ended their conversation with a sharp kick. The women burst into laughter.